"Mother's milk is the best milk" is a slogan adopted by the international community realizing the enormous benefits it can confer on the new born baby. The unabashed promotion of infant food formula in the past by the organized food and dairy industry covertly as well as overtly has done enough damage to the society though stricter oversight by the health agencies and NGOs could curb the tendency to great extent. Greater awareness about the critical importance of breast milk in rearing a healthy baby has also helped to increase the breast feeding practices all over the world. According to WHO guidelines period of nursing a baby with breast milk should be a minimum of 6 months but can be as long as for 2 years if both the mother and the child can do it.
Benefits of breast feeding are immense that are carried into and after the toddlerhood. These include lower risk of 'Sudden Infant Death Syndrome' (SIDS), increased intelligence, lesser chances of middle ear infection, better protection against cold and flu bugs, lower risks of developing some cancers, childhood diabetes, asthma, eczema, dental problems,obesity and psychological disorders in later life. Breast milk is a rich source of antibodies, lymphocytes and hormones and these bioactive constituents confer on the baby the necessary protection against various infections. If this is so why are the mothers reluctant to continue feeding their babies with their own milk? Most important constraint is the practical logistics of feeding the baby once in 6 hours or more frequently as situation demands considering that many mothers have to go to works place within 6-12 weeks after child birth.
There are sanitary milk pumps which enable mothers to express milk, store and feed later through feeding bottles. At 25C, the milk does not stay beyond 6-8 hours, getting spoiled due to bacterial action. In insulated thermal bags it can stay for 24 hours, in domestic refrigerator (4C) for 5 days, in freezer chest of refrigerator for 2 weeks, in freezer unit of 2-door refrigerator for 3-6 months and in upright freezers for 6-12 months. Many mothers can save their milk when available in plenty for subsequent use if taken care of it properly and hygienically. Milk banks, a relatively new concept, started in the western countries and located invariably in hospitals or in their vicinities, scientifically process donated milks by mothers, to ensure its safety before distributing to potential recipients such as orphans, adopted babies and premature infants. Unlike the blood banks the condition of milk received in milk banks is some what uncertain and such donated milk is subjected to a pasteurization treatment at 56C for 30 minutes before freezing. Though at this temperature some enzymes are inactivated, most of the beneficial biological constituents remain active
There are about 25 milk banks in India mostly in Maharashtra and Gujarat, working on a relatively low key, most of them under the aegis of hospitals and there is no national or regional networks operating to distribute the product to needy places outside the metros. With Karnataka Government recently declaring its intention to set up such a bank at one of the city hospitals in Bangalore, the concept is bound to be translated eventually into a nation-wide network for meeting the needs of deserving infants across the country as and when needed. The biggest risk associated with such a venture is the safety of cross feeding and a standard national protocol must be in place to screen the donors as well as the milk donated before channeling into the supply line.